Tiruchendur, May 2012:
I was aware of our travel itinerary bearing a visit to you. However, I wasn’t prepared for the series of seamlessly accidental incidents that were to follow suite. Little did I know, that I was on my way to striking one of the most intense and honest chords with someone. You. As we found a comfortable parking spot near your abode, I trotted off with my friends to the entrance of your shrine. I remember passing on subtle signs of liking this boy from the group I was with then; you knew about it even before I toyed with the idea of ‘what next?’. But you held your quiet. I am not sure if you paved the way for him, but I do not recall receiving any benevolent signs from you back then. You stood sheltered under your rajagopuram, as beamy as always you have been in this sanctum in the aftermath of banishing that fateful asura in the conjoining sea. Your face was clad in wet ash in a coating so thick that your kohl-sketched eyes and lip-line were as vivid and discernible as the outlines of the pictures in a kid’s colouring book. Vibhuthi Alankaaram or Vibhuti Alankara, they told me. You stood there calm and unmoving, while your fans yelled your name, pervading the air with a numinous aura. Your smile failed to waver and needed no support in itself, for it was a finery capable of holding ground by itself. I felt drawn to you like an insect to pollen. My nape tingled, and I felt butterflies in my stomach. Till date, I cannot place my finger on the ‘why’. I felt attracted to you. I stood there one amongst the throng that was besieging you and drawing your attention towards them. I was no different. For, I hoped you had spotted me. I wanted you to look at me. I desired for you to remember me. I was unlikely to forget you; more so, your face. Ever. It was the first time I had felt captivated by a stationary idol. The air was different. The crowd’s callouts failed to bother me; they sounded distant and unconnected. Rather contradictory to my sentiments for you, I must say. The push from the priests to keep moving the queue did not annoy me for it only seemed natural. I could stay there admiring you all day and still not get enough of you. I could continue to stand and look at you without getting tired. Or bored. Your heartwarming smile, the lucid posture discharging an ambience of victory, and your acceptance of me as simply as the air does the breeze had had me arrested. My dreamy temper lasted until the boy whom I liked tapped my shoulder. It was time to leave. I fluttered out of my reverie thinking, what had just happened?
Tiruttani, September 2014:
A native insect had bitten me. My body had begun to itch. It failed to cease, giving way to crimson rashes seconds later. In under a couple of minutes, my lips had swollen to the size conjured in the aftermath of a bee’s sting. I was unable to speak for they felt thick, dry and extremely itchy. I felt unable to fold my hands or flex my fingers as my limbs and flesh had ballooned. I was unable to move, for my feet and toes stung, and my legs felt heavy. As if I were injected with elephantiasis without warning or ado. Tears dripped in a steady column across my puffy cheekbones soaking my feeble eyelashes. The boy I had told you of a year-and-a-half had now married me and was smearing the holy ash all over my limbs to stop my skin from burning after the constant itching. He asked me to close my eyes and think of you. He promised me that we would visit you in the abode that sprung to my mind at that moment, soon after I get well. I believed him and did as he told. Your ashen-faced grin silhouetted my reticent contours. When we visited you a month later, I realised that Vibhuthi Alankaaram is not an exclusivity reserved for your seaside abode and that your dressing and elaboration were transferable. Nonetheless, all that time I had held an unrealised desire to see you adorned in the embers of the holy ash, and you gave me what I had asked for. Even if, at another residence. Without premonitions. Or expectations. Who does that?
Swamimalai, September 2014:
It took me time to record the memories I had dotted with you over seasons. I enjoy(ed) visiting you, no doubts; however, the process of collecting my souvenirs with you was gradual. Every time we entered your shrines, I made a mental note to remember something – anything – significant that would help me memorise the way you are in that specific abode. For, you are different in each of your six homes. Your carvings vary, and distinctly. As if the sculptors had deliberately wanted to be careful while reflecting your vibes to the analogous tales of the particular abodes, without tampering. While each one of your six padai veedu is back linked to a mythological story, it was in this veedu you preached your father the meaning of a mystic monosyllable. You became his guru and asked him to sit down signifying his discipleship towards you – a demand the latter beckoned to. After all, a child’s mischief can warm the cockles of one’s heart. May be, this is why the sight of your face lustred in a golden paste of sandalwood with a sizeable circle of sindoor on your forehead imprinted in my memory. Chandanam Alankaaram or Chandan Alankara drew my attention to your fair-sized face you have in this veedu. After Vibhuthi Alankaaram had (un)knowingly begun to top my wish list every time I met you, little did I realise that Chandanam Alankaaram will follow the sequence. For, I secretly kept hoping for it in my subsequent visits.
Pazhamudircholai, December 2015:
A babble broke out in the queue. A group of people screamed and shoved their way inside the rajagopuram. As the line inched forward, I felt a push on my back. I tripped as the crowd that was the source of the din pushed its way past me. They did not give me a second look. Pachai asked me to ignore them and focus on the reason we were here. The sequence of people in the queue progressed, and I saw you. Settled with your two-thirds, one of them by each of your side. A look of peace manifested from your countenance, the solitude transferable. Your silent gaze had an acupuncture-like effect on me – piercing and calming at the same time. I forgot my anxiety and displeasure I was engulfed with seconds back. Like nothing had happened. The corresponding tale of concluding your quests in your five other padai veedu and choosing this mountain amidst a reserve forest for penultimate settlement couldn’t have borne a finer justification. As if to complement this untroubled aura, a circular mark in red pigment adorned your forehead, and your face was smothered in a velvety layer of sandalwood paste. Watching your fans grow emotional in your presence is your routine, I believe.
Tiruchendur, December 2015:
By now, I had almost by-hearted the cheerful beam you preserve in here. This time, however, I had the chance to admire you beneath and beyond your facial profile because you were ornamented from head to toe. Your head was bedecked in an ornately sequinned and patterned crown. An equally grand, if not more, and suave dhoti swathed your legs. Garlands of flowers, big and small, pink and white, yellow and green cloaked your torso in a manner that no less than complimented your upper and lower attires. Raja Alankaaram or Raja Alankara, they told me. Perhaps, it was a pearl from your palatial garb that convulsed as a teardrop on the brim of my lash. The first of my many open and unabashed sentiments in your midst. That feeling of karunai. Long live the grin!
Palani, January 2016:
You denied me utsavam tickets for that afternoon, although we had come in at the last minute. However, by now, I knew you enough to bear in you a blind faith. When you did not permit me to attend your purpose-built prayer rituals, I was angry for a whole minute. Then I argued that you must have a reason for your signalled inklings and that you will not disappoint me had it not been for a cause. You beckoned to my thought-process for, not only did you let me feast my eyes that day on you ornamented in Raja Alankaaram, but also you treated me to utsavam at my kula deivam (the deity my clan worships) the same evening. Could I have asked for more?
Pazhamudircholai, July 2017:
Two people engaged in a discussion in front, as I stood with my fingers intertwined, the palms of both hands turned inward resting on my thigh. One asked if you were decorated in Vibhuthi, and the other pointed to your crown and sparkling dhoti disputing the suggestion altogether, calling it Raja Alankaaram. While I had believed it to be the former, after the superiorly declaration, my mind became disputed. I was confused to the point of being in turmoil. Because Raja Alankaaram would have meant that my belief of seeing you in Vibhuthi Alankaaram was false. It would have meant that my wish in that trip would have been left unfulfilled. It was past dusk and the day was drawing to a close. So was the temple. The priests were rushing the crowd in the queue. Soon after, they closed the curtains for you had to be readied to sleep after the last worship for the day. We made our way to the exit and sat for a couple of minutes near the entrance, ready to leave. The security guard who mistook us for people waiting for the curtains to reopen urged us to reenter the shrine. Why must we see you from near the exit when we had a chance to do so from far closer, he reasoned. We obliged. The curtains opened as bells began to be rung and mantras chanted in similar timbres. One of the priests offered you a sequence of wick lamps soaked in ghee in repetitive circular motions. You stood in peace as you always have, clad in a plain white dhoti. Your head was devoid of the crown, and so was the rest of your body from any sequinned or patterned attire. All of it had been removed except the layer of ash and kohl-smeared eyes and lip-line. They remained as-is. My mind automatically unknotted itself from the conflicts it was strung with in the past half hour.
Thiruparankundram, July 2017:
By now, I had souvenirs from five of your other veedu but none, even in fragments, from here. I climbed the flight of steps leading up to the shrine hoping to catch a hint, a take away at least this time. Upon entering the sanctum, I got a chance to stand close to you; the priests let me be, for the crowd was minimal that day. Rows upon rows and columns upon columns of wick lamps drenched in sesame oil hung low from all sides, close to your face. Your eyes were open, your face devoid of any makeup or coating, and your lips curved upward an inch or so. The sculpture appeared a shade of military green in the lights. The seconds stretched into minutes, lapsing me into the world that was oblivious to calls and beckons from the crowd. I thought I saw water surfacing on your eye. A droplet the size of a pearl seemed to trace a fine line on your right cheek. Was it a carving sculpted to resemble a tear-stained cheek? Or, had a tiny cleft developed in the recent years? I thought I saw your eyeballs move in circles, creating illusions of mischief. You rolled your eyes like a child up to something naughty. They orbited to corners you commanded them to. It was an impishness that revealed a playful side of you. Apparently, the wick lamps were tricking me, conjuring illusions out of a delightful kaleidoscope. I had only hoped to strike a chord with something – anything – significant when I had entered. And I had oodles of it on my way out. Who does that?
You accepted me without premonitions and reservations when I stepped into your seaside abode five years ago. It was as if you had stamped your seal of fate when that boy I liked and I walked into your sanctum. As if there were no further questions to be asked and nothing left to be discussed. I am indebted to you for it. You let me demand from you whenever I wanted to see you in one of my three favourite alankaarams. You let me be angry with you when I thought you had failed me. Despite which, you have never judged me. You have taken it all in your stride and more so, you have answered each one of my indecisions in ways I understand.
A friend once suggested that Lord Muruga is my close friend, and so visiting you feels like visiting friends. I think it is true. The journey of getting to know you has been unhurried, nonetheless a fulfilling one. Have I ever confessed to you, that you made it this easy for me only because you took to me without any questions? I walked into your durbar, and you claimed your ownership over me. I became yours. Just like that. Which, in turn, and over time, translated into affection. Fondness. Homage.
Your sight invokes tears in my eyes today. I let them flow without restraint.
You have given me Pachai. I could not ask for more. You have rewarded my wish of seeing you in my all-time favourite silhouettes of sandalwood paste, wet ash and the ruler’s crown every time I have considered it. I should not ask for more. It took me thirty years to realise that you have been alongside me all this while in the form of two fathers – Subramaniam Kumar and Sivakumar. I need not ask for more.